Read Zeno: #8 (Luna Lodge) Online
Authors: Madison Stevens
Tags: #Romance, #Military, #Paranormal, #Romantic Suspense, #Werewolves & Shifters, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense, #paranormal romance
Zeno frowned. “Does that mean Ava is a Vestal as well?”
The gathered men exchanged glances. It had never been something they’d come across, but so much about their natures remained a mystery.
“There’s a chance,” Paige said quietly. “Rachel thinks there is a good chance, anyway. None of the Group’s paperwork we’ve found documented siblings though, so it’s hard to know for sure.”
He snorted. Sounded like the Group was just better at hiding their files than they thought. No way they didn’t look at siblings.
He remembered the testing and the way they made him run courses over and over, waiting, testing and probing to see if different obstacles would elicit a different response. They’d evaluated his endurance, his strength and how long it took to break him. The Horatius Group was many things: evil, twisted and monstrous, but above all they were thorough.
He shook his head. Thinking about all he had experienced that shaped him wasn’t really something he wanted to dwell on. It wouldn’t change anything. He couldn’t change the past.
“So what are we supposed to do?” he asked.
Val leaned forward. “While Apollo and I get the comms equipment set up, you go over and pay Senior Díaz a friendly, if quiet, visit.”
“And if she’s there?” He looked around the room and stopped on Titus. “It’s not exactly like I can say I was just in the neighborhood.”
Titus shook his head. “Try not to engage. His men are known to be a rough crowd, and Díaz isn’t going to make this easy. Just see if she wants a ride home.”
Zeno raised a brow. “And if she doesn’t?”
Paige stood and passed an envelope over to him. “Give this to her.”
His eyes locked with hers, and he felt bad for being such a smart-ass. This was her sister, and she was worried. He stared down at the envelope.
“Ava isn’t a bad person,” Paige said. Her voice shook a little.
Zeno kept his eyes down so he wouldn’t have to see her cry. Something about a woman crying just killed him a bit.
“She’s always been one to fall in love easily,” Paige said and gave a little laugh. “Free-spirited. She does whatever strikes her. We got into an argument before she left, and I haven’t heard from her since.”
He clenched his hands a little. This free-spirited idiot had gotten herself into a bad situation and was now causing problems for her sister. He couldn’t stand that sort of person, the kind that didn’t care about what sort of inconvenience they caused other people.
He looked over to Marius, who had seemed certain Zeno was the last man for the job. The other hybrid thought the very same thing about him that Zeno thought of Ava. It infuriated him. He would do his job, and he would do it well.
“When do we go?” he said.
Titus stared calmly back. “Now.”
Zeno sighed. It looked like he would be having dinner on the run.
He just hoped this woman hadn’t been living it up while her sister sat by and patiently waited for a sign she was alive. If that were the case, he might just be tossing her pretty ass over his shoulder and bringing her home a different way.
Ava sat at the beautiful table. The meal had been laid out like it was every night: perfect and smelling delicious. She was never quite sure what they were having. The kitchen staff spoke very little English, and she spoke even less Spanish, let alone any of the indigenous languages.
Still, it always looked and tasted amazing. The only thing missing was the happiness she’d once felt sitting at the table.
She looked around the room: four doors on the inside of the pretty stucco. An over-sized buffoon stood guard in front of each door.
Ava picked up her napkin and slapped it on her lap. She leaned forward and lifted the lid. There was no way in hell she was going to wait any longer.
“Antonio will be in soon,” said one of the men.
She turned to look at one of the men closer to her. He watched her with irritation, knowing his boss likely wouldn’t like it if she ate without him.
She huffed loudly and slammed the clay lid back on the pot. It would serve them right if she broke the damn thing.
As if he knew what she was up to, Antonio opened the door directly behind her and stepped up to the back of her chair.
She ignored him as he leaned around from the back to her right side and put his mouth near her ear. He placed a small kiss there. A shiver of revulsion ran through her.
“My Ava,” he whispered. “I hope I didn’t keep you waiting long.”
She turned to glare at him. His charming and deceitful face remained close to her own.
She narrowed her eyes and gave a stiff smile. “Not at all.”
Antonio leaned back to stare at her for a moment. His thick dark hair had been slicked in a different direction from this morning. His normally pressed white shirts and black pants were rumpled. She assumed he wanted her to know he had been seeing one of his other lovers.
Like she cared. Let them have him and all his fake charming ways. He was as selfish in bed as he was with every other aspect of his life.
He smirked at her, likely assuming she was jealous. His thin wisp of a mustache quirked as he strolled to his spot across the table with all the cocky grace of someone who thought they had won.
He pulled his massive and ornate chair back, the scroll work dwarfing him in the seat. He looked more like a child playing a king in some twisted play.
He snapped his fingers, and two house servants hurried over to dish out the food. Ava watched the older women and wondered if the pay was good. It would make sense seeing as he was a tyrant when it came to the things he wanted.
The older of the two glanced at her as she dished some of the stew into her bowl. The woman’s tanned weathered face looked at if it had been through worse than Antonio. Maybe she’d seen many men like Antonio, pretend kings in their tiny little kingdoms.
The servant added an extra piece of cornbread to Ava’s plate and gave a little smile.
The gesture warmed her. The older woman knew how much Ava loved the light and moist way she made the bread. It gave her a small bit of comfort when she was so far away from home. Ava beamed up at her, glad to have a friend of sorts.
The older woman stepped away from the table but stopped when Antonio raised his hand slightly to stay her movement. He looked across the table to Ava and nodded to the cornbread.
“Devuélvelo, solo necesitas uno.”
Ava frowned but watched as the old woman took the basket and held it out to her. The poor woman couldn’t even look her in the eye as she did so.
“Wouldn’t want you getting fat, now would we?” Antonio said.
Ava debated for a quick moment chucking the bread right at his stupid face. It would certainly surprise him, but she didn’t want to cause trouble for the old woman. Grudgingly she placed the piece back into the basket.
He snapped his fingers and pointed to the empty place beside him. The old woman hurried to the other side. Antonio jerked the basket from her hands and slammed it hard on the table.
He smiled across to Ava as he pulled the piece out of the basket she had just placed in. Anger coursed through her. To think that she’d let a man like him have so much control over her made her sick.
She’d never been one to worry much about what she ate. She liked the way she looked. She wasn’t thin. Her stomach was never going to be flat and hard. However, she had curves, and she loved them. Hell, most men did. And the one that didn’t could take a hike.
She glared at him with a deep, burning hatred. One day she would have her revenge and wipe that smug look right off his face.
Ava dug into the stew and ignored the rage she still felt. If she were ever going to get away from him, she would need to eat. Besides, the stew was fantastic. It warmed her down to her toes.
Slowly she ate the cornbread, savoring the little amount she was allowed.
“And what did you do today?” Antonio asked, his accent only getting thicker as he drank the hard liquor in his cup.
She set down her bread and stared at him across the table.
“Pictured all the ways you might die today.”
The words were out of her mouth before she could even think about it. It was the truth. It was what she did most days. A full month of being held captive had done it for her. Six weeks ago she had been blissfully in lust. Now she was tired and just wanted to go home and make up with Paige.
She thought of her sister often and of all the nasty things she had said before leaving. Paige had only wanted to keep her safe, but she hadn’t been willing to listen. Instead Ava had mocked Paige’s lack of a social life.
It was a low moment and something she hoped she would be able to correct. First, she needed to survive and escape from Antonio.
He smiled for a moment, then burst from his chair, his face red. She gasped when his hand landed hard on her throat. He squeezed, not really choking her, but letting her know he could if he wanted.
In the end, he could kill her right there, and it was likely no one besides his people would even know. None of them would dare try and stop him.
The thought of not being able to reconcile with her sister brought tears to her eyes.
He watched with pleasure as the tears trailed down her face. He gave another tight squeeze and then loosened his grip. The thumb resting against her pulse rubbed back and forth over the sensitive spot. She stilled, hoping he would just let her go and sit back down.
“You are mine,” he said quietly, his voice low and threatening. “My little pet. Pets must respect their owners. Do you understand?”
She gave a shallow nod.
He offered a toothy grin. Bile rose in her throat.
“May I be excused?” she asked quietly.
She had to get away. Mouthing off hadn’t been a good idea. More and more recently, he had been aggressive toward her. How long would it be before he decided he was tired of his pet?
Antonio stepped back and waved an arm for her to leave. An older man and young man guarded the door on the other side of the room, just opposite the table. The older one held the door open as the younger man walked through. He stood by the door and waited.
She would be escorted back to her room per the usual. Antonio would take no chances with her escaping. She doubted he even really cared. It was just another way he could exert control.
Ava stood and hand to brush past him in order to get by. He grabbed her arm a little tighter than necessary. He stared hard at the V dip of the aqua blue dress he had given her to wear for the day, her ample cleavage fully on display for him. She pulled her shawl tighter around her front.
“You know you can’t resist me for long. No woman can.” His eyes came back to her face, and she resisted gagging.
Gently she pulled her arm away and stood tall. Even on his best day, he was still just an inch above her. She knew it did something to his ego knowing that.
“I can try,” she said.
Without a word she turned and made her way through the door after the young man, the older man trailing behind them. Ignoring everyone else along the way, she walked until she’d reached the third door down. The other two were standard guest rooms.
The young guard twisted the key in the old lock and sneered. Her room, however, had been made into a prison of sorts.
She glanced down the hall. Antonio’s door lay directly ahead. She tried to ignore the revulsion she felt at knowing he was so close. Eventually he would come for her. She knew this.
Her eyes landed on the door next to her own. The only real chance at escape.
Ava stepped in and turned to watch as the young man closed the door. The loud click of the lock echoed in the room.
Quickly she went to work, doing what she did every night: going over all the provisions she’d been able to gather.
As quietly as she could, Ava twisted off the loose screws on the vent next to her vanity. Inside she had slipped her backpack. It was the only thing he seemed to have missed when he took all her things from her.
She set the bag on the table and pulled out what she’d collected. It wasn’t much: a bit of rope, some pieces of dried meat and fruit she’d been able to hide, along with a bit of hard bread.
Ava slipped the steak knife from the side of her shawl. She had worried when he grabbed a hold of her it might slip free. There was no telling what he might do if he knew she taken her defiance to a higher level.
The first time she said she was going home he had slapped her hard across the cheek. It had been four weeks ago, and yet she could still feel the ache it in her face. It was then that she’d decided to never be with him again.
He locked her away and only let her free when he or one of his guards were around.
Ava had thought he would lose interest if she stopped sleeping with him. Surely she was of no use to him if they weren’t going to be together in that way. She’d worried he’d take her by force, but, for now, his ego seemed to be overriding everything else. It was if he couldn’t honestly understand why a woman would resist him.
Four weeks later they were still doing the same song and dance. Somehow his interest in her had only grown. She was starting to wonder if she would ever make it home.
A light knock came at the door, and she hurried to slip the bag back in the vent. Getting caught now would mean trouble, if not something worse.
She walked over to the door.
It opened slowly. The older guard held out a napkin.
She smiled and took the wrapped cloth from him. A half dozen pieces of the delicious cornbread lay inside.
“She wants you have,” he said and nodded a few times.
“Thank you, Piero.” Ava grinned and popped a piece of the bread in her mouth. “Please tell your wife thank you as well.”
He nodded. His English wasn’t the best, but they were somehow able to get things across.
“We talk,” he said and looked over his shoulder back into the hall and then looked back to her. “We help.”
She gave a sigh of relief. She had taken a chance asking him to risk so much, but there was no other choice. Things were not going to get better, and he was her only option.